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How to Succeed When You’re Afraid

By: Mark Liskey

Welcome to massage talk therapy. Got a problem?

I do. I hate cutting my toenails. Don’t know why. Maybe I was an unhappy podiatrist in another life. Anyway, I avoid cutting them at cost. They get way too long, and when I finally cut them I announce to my wife, Lisa: Hey, I cut ’em!

Omg, pink champagne or white?! The question is, what was the big deal? There was no blood when I cut them…but… …but there could have been blood, right? So, I better not cut my toenails. Or I better not call the client who I worked on 2 days ago in case her condition got worse. You see where I’m going here in this massage talk therapy session.

Could Be Bad Thinking

“Could be bad” thinking stops you from completing tasks and accomplishing goals. It’s like a faulty brain wire that slowly drains your energy reserve. You probably got a case of “could be bad” thinking if you constantly ask yourself questions like: Why don’t I have more clients?

Mark Versus Joe

I was the poster child for “could be bad” thinking when I first started massage. Back then I worked in a chiropractor’s office with other MTs. Joe, a colleague and friend, had a kick-butt following. My following was mediocre.

Was Joe that much better than me?

I don’t think so. But he was willing to put himself out there by letting people know he did massage. I, on the other hand, wasn’t. If I talked about my massage it could be bad because… …people might start thinking that I’m simply a self-promoter…or I might not live up to their expectations…or they just may hate me and tell everyone that I stink as a therapist.

The Change

Fast forward to today. I still don’t like promoting myself. And I still have a “could be bad” mindset. But my practice is everything I want it to be. What’s up? There’s one major difference between me then and now. Now, when I start thinking it “could be bad” when making a business decision, I take a moment to look at what’s going on.

Falling Through the Display Window

A while back, I had agreed to be a sponsor at an event my favorite business partner was putting on. Even though I had done massage at tons of events over my career, I still had anxiety about doing this event. After all, it could be bad because… ….I could fall through the display window where I’d be doing the massage…I could have a client come in and complain about a massage…I could look like an idiot because no one gets in my massage line…I could be so awkward that I make all the other vendors uncomfortable and my favorite business never invites me back…

What was going on to make me feel this way?

To be honest, I’m not sure, and I didn’t do a deep dive into my psyche to find out. Instead I simply listened to the chatter, and when I did I realized that it wasn’t all that rational.

Was I going to fall through the display window? Unlikely. However, if I bailed at the last minute would I disappoint the running store manager? Possibly. And that might jeopardize my business relationship with the manager going forward.

So, I did the event. It was great AND I didn’t fall through the display window.

Are You Worse Than Me?

But it’s all relative, right? Your case of “could be bad” could be worse than my case of “could be bad”. What then?

Simple, says Dr. Mark (haha), you need to experience a win. Then you need another win… …and another win until your brain says: Hey, I’m doing this.

But here’s the tricky part, you may not get a win tomorrow or the day after that or next week or next month. Take me for example, I’m entering a whole new game. I’m trying to promote my new book due out in June.

Wait, Mark, isn’t this therapy supposed to be about me?

Me, you, us, them, let’s not get hung up on pronouns. I’m going through some really no-win days here. Query email after query email shot out into a cyberspace, editorial, black hole. It reminds me of the 50 query letters I sent out before I sold my first article or the many promising email and phone interactions I had with an employee of that local running store with the display window that ultimately went nowhere. Finally I went to the store in person to introduce myself to the manager and the rest is happy history.

Yes, that first win may take a while, but that’s okay as long as you’re getting a win in an area that matters.

The business relationship I was establishing with the running store manager—very important.

A chair massage gig at a one-and-done event—not so important.

Knowing the business areas to focus on is not straightforward. Before I started my blog, I read and listened to a lot of blog experts. One, Pat Flynn, once talked about being everywhere as the key to getting his name out there. When I applied that principle to my massage business I was out of control—I was running in a million directions and wasting a lot of time. It was in complete contrast to what I did before—one thing at a time forever without evaluating the return. Eventually, I realized a lot of wins or just one win in areas that ultimately weren’t important to my massage business success were a waste of my time, period.

So, I set my sights on figuring out where I should be focusing my attention for wins. And here’s what yielded me the best ROI: building quality referral sources and getting competent with free, online advertising.

If you’re just starting out with a massage business and want some wins in the areas that I just mentioned, go here:

If you want to take your massage business to the next level, go here:

Okay, that’s where you go to get wins. Now, this is how you’re going to get your first win:

5 Steps to Success When You’re Afraid

1. Pick a task.

Pick something that you’ve been avoiding but need to do to move forward with your business.

2. Don’t panic.

When all the “could be bad” thoughts pour into your mind, don’t panic. Look at them. Are they legit concerns or are they unrealistic concerns? Fall through the display window—unrealistic concern. No one in my massage line—unrealistic concern. Worst vendor ever award—unrealistic concern. Client tells me I suck in front of everybody—unrealistic concern. If your concerns are mainly unrealistic then say:

3. F*ck it!

Sorry. But doesn’t this stuff get you a little jacked? How many times have you NOT followed through on something because of unrealistic concerns and regretted it. The reality is, you can’t get the win if you don’t go for the win. And the memory of the first win will be the incentive for the next win and on and on… Eventually, you’ll create a habit of pushing forward when your brain says “could be bad” and offers only unrealistic concerns. The first win is the hardest. If you find yourself wavering…

4. Get support.

Talk to a colleague, friend or spouse. Let them know what you’re doing and how they can help you. By the way, my office door is open. Email me and I’ll be happy to be your Judge Judy or Oprah, whichever you think you need to finish the job. But before you do, there’s one more thing you need to know. Success is not a straight line. When you have a setback (you will), like actually falling through the picture window or having a disgruntled customer, you’re fear is going to escalate. And you will want to stay down to avoid getting knocked down again. When that happens…

5. Get up.

Like now, get up.



Because this is what happens if you don’t. You waste time. In 2007 I wrote and Op-Ed for the Philadelphia Inquirer about the high cost of pet care. I got letters and emails from people telling me their stories about dealing with the high costs of pet care. I was feeling great! But then I got a letter from someone in the veterinary industry who attacked my piece. I was devastated.

My wife, Lisa, was a bit surprised by my reaction. She said: Did you expect everyone to agree with you? Actually, yes…yes, I did. In fact, I so hated the feeling of being hated that I stopped writing Op-Eds and articles. It took me a few years before I picked up my pen again.

When I look back I realize that my fear of being criticized cost me big time. I didn’t work on honing my writer skills. I didn’t bring in extra money. And I didn’t grow as a business person. Trust me; you will make mistakes in your massage business. It may be a missed appointment or a massage that the client didn’t like or a month of being in the red. It will be a punch that will take you to the canvass. Don’t let fear keep you down–like fear kept me down with writing. Because the longer you stay down, the harder it’s going to be to get up.

Get up now.

Assess what went wrong.

Make an adjustment if you need to and look for that next win. But remember to make sure that you’re looking for wins in the right places.

Oh my, how time flies!

We need to wrap up today’s massage talk therapy session. But before we do, one parting thought: Don’t expect the “could be bad” mindset to go away. (Well, it didn’t for me.) Don’t worry; it doesn’t need to vanish for you to move forward. You just need to manage your “could be bad” thinking. And you can .:-)


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